At some point, LeBron James and his dominant hold on the NBA regular season MVP award is going to end. The natural usurper to the crown? Kevin Durant, who has been mentioned as the “next best player” for the last three years. But Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and maybe even Stephen Curry can be thrown into the discussion.
What will it take to actually knock James off his pedestal? Looking back at the previous time he didn’t win the award (the only time over the last five seasons), it took a lot of nationwide and media-induced hate towards him in order to bring him down. His first season with the Heat? James averaged 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7 assists as the Heat improved by 11 wins from the previous season.
Derrick Rose won the MVP that year, as he led the Chicago Bulls to the best record in the NBA, but it was more a case of Anti-James than actually Rose deserving the award. It’s such a subjective subject anyway. Few argue the fact that James is the best player in the NBA, but maybe sometimes voters get tired of putting his name in the ballot.
The last couple of years were a return to normalcy. James was the undisputed king of the NBA in individual ability. Anthony, Bryant and Durant score more than he does, but none of them do what he does. In passing, in rebounding, on defense. And that’s even before we get to the winning in the playoffs, but that has nothing to do with it.
So he can potentially dethrone James? Durant is the obvious choice. But what he needs is to have the same kind of season he had last year – scoring better than anyone in the NBA, while improving his rebounding and assists numbers. If Durant can keep on the feeling that he’s improving his all-around game while keeping the Thunder as the best in the West, he has a good shot at it. Voters want to put a new name on the top of the list, and Durant is first in line.
What about Anthony? Slim chance, but doable. Like Durant, Anthony depends on two things: Scoring at the same rate he always has while improving his all-around game. But he also needs the Knicks to have the kind of season they haven’t had in ages, which is finishing with the best record in the East. Without the Knicks toppling the Heat in the regular season pecking order, Anthony doesn’t win that MVP.
How about Dwight Howard? Three years ago he was on the list, but his public persona has taken multiple hits over the last couple of years, not to mention his overall play has declined. This year is his chance to get his mojo back. If his defense will be on par with his time in Orlando, while he propels the Rockets to one of the three best teams in the West, then there’s a chance it might happen.
Chris Paul? He needs to do better than last season in terms of scoring, but it’ll mostly be about the team. Just like the Rockets – if the Clippers can push themselves up to the top 2 in the West, meaning somehow pushing back the Spurs or the Thunder, we’ll hear some serious discussion about Paul as the MVP, finally.
And then there’s Stephen Curry, who in a similar discussion seems like a not-so-out-of-the-blue choice. But it’ll take close to a miracle for Curry to be in this discussion by the end of next season. Just like we hear the ‘Tony Parker for MVP’ calls each season when he pulls of a stretch of 26-28 points per game as the Spurs win something like 9 out of 10, Curry can be the same guy. Maybe focusing more on offense can move his scoring to the 25 points per game area.
But the important thing about MVP voting these days? It depends on what team you’re playing on, and how good they do. The Warriors, going by last season and the whole Western Conference, won’t be good enough to put Curry on that high of a pedestal.
And then there’s James himself. If Wade does decline, James has to take more on himself. Unless the Heat decide that home court advantage isn’t that important, and settle for a 55-win season. If the Heat do look less than great for more than one moment this season, and James does take a step or two backwards in order to get some rest, than the rest of the field has a better shot. It’s still up to him, not anyone else.